WESTPORT, Conn. – Hoping to make downtown Westport more than a retail destination, another bid for the creation of pop-up cafes was made Wednesday.
A subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission again appealed to the Board of Selectmen for permission to put on-street seating areas in converted parking spaces.
“Everyone benefits when there’s more vitality downtown,” said Howard Lathrop, chairman of the downtown initiatives subcommittee, arguing that such cafes would attract more people to the area.
Lathrop first proposed the idea to the selectmen last July. Together with Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jennifer Johnson, Lathrop presented the selectmen with a first draft policy for pop-up cafes, based on comments from the police, fire, and public works departments as well as the Westport Weston Health District.
Pop-up cafes are designed in curbside parking spaces on one side of a street. For safety reasons, the cafes are designed on wooden platforms that are level with the sidewalk, Lathrop said. Barriers of some sort, such as planters, are also placed around the cafes for visual and physical safety, he said.
These cafes would be set up in the warmer months and removed in the winter.
Johnson said the proposed locations are along one-way streets such as the lower section of Main Street, Parker-Harding Plaza, Church Lane and Taylor Place, between Post Road East and Jesup Road.
Lathrop said the fire department had concerns about emergency vehicle access. But he said the cafes would take up about as much space as a car in width and would be used sparingly as to not disrupt traffic flow. He said the subcommittee hopes to acquire a prototype to demonstrate how quickly they can be removed in case of an emergency.
Under the proposed policy, a business interested in setting up a pop-up café would pay the costs of installation, not the town. However, Lathrop said the cafes can be extensions of restaurants or for public use. The selectmen then asked about exclusivity and enforcement because the street is public property, not private.
“If they [businesses] are going to make the investment, they’re probably going to want it to be exclusive,” selectman Charles Haberstroh said. “I’m agnostic to whether they’re public or private, but I want to make sure there’s a mechanism in place to resolve any disputes.”
Police Chief Dale Call agreed with Haberstroh, saying there would need to be a definite policy as to whether the cafes are public or private.
“Otherwise, it becomes a coin flip and we don’t want to be in the position were we’re flipping coins on whether someone can be there,” Call said. “It would make life far simpler for us to be able to come down and tell someone they can’t be there because that’s the regulation in town.”
Selectwoman Shelly Kassen said she’s in favor of giving up a “modest amount of public space” to be used by businesses, because it would in turn provide the town with economic benefits.
The question of who would be in charge of making sure the cafes comply with the policy was also raised. Larry Bradley, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, said the cafes would not fall under his department’s jurisdiction because they are on public property.
The selectmen took no action and asked Lathrop and Johnson to come back with an updated policy proposal.